As the prepaid debit card niche goes mobile, Plastyc Inc. is trying to stay ahead of the pack by attempting to make its mobile site as robust as an online banking site.
The New York-based firm has no celebrities nor any deals with convenience stores or mass merchants to distribute its reloadable prepaid debit cards, but it claims an advantage over rivals: Plenty of smartphone users that rely heavily on handheld devices.
"A lot of our customers have limited access to the Internet via a regular PC, and they want a full range of banking services, including the ability to mail a real check to someone like a landlord, and they want to do it all through their smartphone," Plastyc CEO Patrice Peyret says.
After learning from research that 75% of its customers have smartphones, Plastyc on March 13 rolled out a smartphone app enabling holders of Google Inc. Android and Apple Inc. iPhone devices who lack traditional bank accounts to perform services previously available only through a Web browser.
And in the niche of prepaid card providers that operate entirely through online channels, being first with certain features (such as mailed checks) in the fast-growing mobile channel may be an advantage as competition heats up.
"The typical life of a prepaid card is measured in months, but by providing superior apps and technology we plan on keeping people for the long term, which is the key to turning a profit in this industry," Peyret says. "The time when everybody and their dog could start a prepaid card company is coming to an end and as the boom of creation of new prepaid card programs is mostly over."
Plastyc's primary competitors include AccountNow, UniRush LLC's RushCard and ReadyCredit Corp.
Peyret does not see larger providers that target a mass audience through retail channels, such as Green Dot Corp. and NetSpend Corp., as direct rivals.
Plastyc, a privately held company, has "under 1 million" customers, Peyret says, declining to disclose actual figures.
"We have low overhead and our technology is better, so that customers who want full services through a prepaid card will find us," Peyret says.
Plastyc advertises online and also does some local advertising on cable TV and through posters in urban areas where "mobile, unbanked types of customers live and work," Peyret says.
As the range of players in the prepaid arena stabilizes, "there is downward pressure on fees and more regulatory scrutiny" coming, he says.
The Senate Banking Committee on March 14 convened a hearing to examine prepaid card practices. Plastyc is among prepaid debit card providers that agreed to test a new, voluntary fee-disclosure box the Center for Financial Services Innovation proposed March 13.